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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

What's The Answer?

Air Date: Week of

Living on Earth host Steve Curwood talks with Russell Sadler about what a possible compromise on Northwest forestry issues will look like and what political hurdles the President and Congress will have to jump.


CURWOOD: One of the most difficult problems over the near term in the Northwest is job loss. About a third of the milling work force has lost its jobs to new technologies since 1979. And in some plants two workers can now do what it used to take four or more to accomplish. And, says Russell Sadler, a syndicated columnist and commentator from Eugene, Oregon, both the logging companies and the environmentalists have a vested interest now in the status quo of suspended logging. He predicts that getting a compromise will be tough.

SADLER: It doesn't much matter whether we're talking about certain national environmental groups who are invested with lawyers and using the Endangered Species Act in court, or whether it's private timber owners like Weyerhauser and Georgia-Pacific who are getting artificially high prices for their trees because there are no trees coming off Federal forest land to compete with them. None of these people have a stake in resolving the problem.

CURWOOD: So if people don't want to solve the problem, how will it get solved?

SADLER: A lot of it, I think, depends on Clinton and his insistence that the interest groups, whether they're the timber industry interest groups or the environmental interest groups, cannot go to Congress and try to get a second bite of the apple. That is to say, whatever consensus the Administration builds out of this summit becomes the Clinton Administration policy, which, being Democratic, it will sell to a Democratic Congress, and that's the way things will go.

CURWOOD: What do you think a deal from this conference is going to look like?

SADLER: The most important intellectual idea on the board right now to build consensus around is ecosystem management. Nobody knows what that is; we know what it is not. We know ecosystem management is not single-species management, whether it's the Endangered Species Act, whether it's so much wilderness versus timber targets -- single species management is what got us into this trouble in the first place. If you're interested in the health of the forest, you've got to build a new consensus for Federal forest management. I think the basis for that consensus is something called "new forestry," a management philosophy written up largely by a fellow named Jerry Franklin, who is now at the University of Washington. His idea is to leave intact those areas that are not fragmented, that is, those areas of the old forest that are still intact ecosystems. But there's a lot of forest around here that is not, it's fragmented. Franklin insists you can't preserve that. Bugs'll get it, it'll blow down, it'll burn down, one way or the other, because it is not part of an intact ecosystem it won't survive. His argument is to cut it in a way that leaves enough forest around it to restore the old-growth characteristics of the forest as rapidly as possible.

CURWOOD: What kind of dilemma do you think Congress faces in addressing this? They either have to override the court decision, which is put cutting on Federal lands on hold for the time being, or lower environmental standards, or upset the timber industry by having much lower harvest quotas than were in place before.

SADLER: Congress has to make a decision, and it's a decision they won't like 'cause they can't win. But Congress has functionally declared the equivalent of Chapter 11 -- they have no more money in their pork barrel. For a decade they have substituted resources in the Western pork barrel; they gave the environmentalists so much wilderness, they gave the timber industry so much wood. And frankly the resource isn't holding up any better than the money did. And they've got to wean themselves from this habit and of course that's painful withdrawal.

CURWOOD: Well, tell me -- can President Clinton deliver on his promise? Can he protect the owl and protect the logging business?

SADLER: It is possible to do both things at a reduced level. What everybody has to understand is the environmentalists aren't going to get their paralysis -- there will be some logging -- and the industry has to understand that they aren't going to get their historic level of board footage off the national forests any more.

CURWOOD: Would that be a win for Clinton?

SADLER: If Bill Clinton solves this problem, so that some logging resumes, but that there are dramatic changes in the clearcutting and in the roadbuilding, a major reduction in those things, he will win. Understand that Ronald Reagan did not win Oregon and Washington in his second election, George Bush never won Oregon and Washington. And they didn't win out here, not because we're Republicans or Democrats, but because the people out here through all strata of society felt ignored. Clinton is going to make a personal appearance, he's going to exert some leadership for a day -- hopefully he will delegate this to competent people, and one way or another we will move to resolve the conflict.

CURWOOD: I want to thank you very much. Russell Sadler is a syndicated columnist and radio commentator from Eugene, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

SADLER: It's my pleasure.



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